The term “cyber pathogen,” however, seems to exist only in Harry Potter fan fiction.
Does the San Bernardino shooter’s iPhone contain anything of value for investigators? They FBI doesn’t know, but the San Bernardino District Attorney suggests the county-owned handset could have been used as a weapon of mass cyber destruction.
“The iPhone…may have connected to the San Bernardino County computer network,” DA Michael Ramos said in a court filing. “The seized iPhone may contain evidence that it was used as a weapon to introduce a lying dormant cyber pathogen that endangers San Bernardino County’s infrastructure.”
Local residents shouldn’t be too quick to panic, though: iPhone forensics expert Jonathan Zdziarski debunked the DA’s claims.
“I quickly Googled the term ‘cyber pathogen’ to see if anyone had used it in computer science,” Zdziarski wrote in a blog post.
The first result: Harry Potter fan fiction. “That’s right, a Demigod from Gryffindor is the closest thing Google could find about cyber pathogens.”
Zdziarski said even CSI: Cyber is not bold enough to use “wildly non-existent terms” like “cyber pathogen” in its TV scripts.
“There is absolutely nothing in the universe that knows what a cyber pathogen is,” Zdziarski wrote. “Fagan’s statements are not only misleading to the court, but amount to blatant fear mongering.
They are designed to manipulate the court into making a ruling for the FBI.”
The device in question—an iPhone 5c issued to Syed Rizwan Farook as part of his San Bernardino Health Department duties—is currently in the possession of the FBI, which wants Apple to disable a feature that wipes the gadget after 10 incorrect password guesses so that it may use an automated system to guess the phone’s passcode and break in.
According to Ramos, information contained on the smartphone could provide evidence to help the government identify co-conspirators “who would be prosecuted for murder and attempted murder.”
But to do that, Cupertino would need to create another mobile operating system that could open the encrypted device—a slippery slope, according to CEO Tim Cook, who is worried the workaround might end up in the wrong hands.
Apple is even willing to take its fight against the FBI over iPhone backdoors all the way to the Supreme Court, where it would have the support of numerous industry heavyweights.
Oral arguments are set for March 22 in federal court.